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JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. 91 VII. — On the Origin of the Somali Race, which inhabits the North-eastern portion of Africa. By Col. C. P. ElGBY. [Read Feb. 27th, 1866.] The north-eastern portion of Africa, which is embraced between the Straits of Bab-el-Mandel and Cape Guardafui, and thence as far south as the equator, is inhabited by tribes composing the great Somali race, which differs from all other African races in feature, language, and customs. The origin of this race, and the question as to what family it belongs, is, I think, worthy of discussion. Previous to the occupation of Aden by the British, Europeans had very little intercourse with the Somali, and very little was known concerning them. No European traveller had ever pene- trated into their country, and to this day the greater portion of it remains unvisited The Somali are a pastoral race, possessing large herds of cattle, and flocks of the Doomba or fat-tailed sheep. They subsist chiefly on the produce of their flocks and herds. On the east coast they cultivate a great deal of grain, and lead a more settled life, dwell- ing in towns and villages. Those tribes which inhabit this part are much taller and more robust than the inhabitants of the com- paratively barren country further north. The men are generally six feet in height, and all have the most regular white teeth. The Somali are generally tall and well made, with a very dark smooth skin ; their features express great intelligence and anima- tion, and are of a Grecian type, with thin lips and aquiline noses ; their hair is long, and very thick. They have none of the charac- teristic features of the Negro race, which they affect to despise. The men comb out their hair into little ringlets, having the appearance of a thick mop ; they wear no head-dress, and bestow much time and care in the arrangement of their luxuriant hair, and, in order not to derange it at night, they rest their head on a small wooden pillow scooped out to support the cheek. They also frequently change the colour of the hair by applying a preparation of quick lime. They have also a custom of shaving their own hair off, and substituting a large bushy sheep-skin wig dyed a bright red colour. On the top of their hair or wig they wear two thin sticks bound together, which they use as a comb to twist out their ringlets. Those who have slain an enemy in battle, wear an ostrich feather stuck upright in their hair. They have generally very scanty beards and moustache, and these they frequently pluck out. 92 C. P. Rigby — Origin of the Somali Race. The women are generally tall and well formed ; when young, they are very good looking. They are not secluded, and are under no restraint, being treated as the equals of the men. They are always merry and good-humoured. The unmarried girls wear their hair in small ringlets hanging loosely all over the head ; after marriage it is drawn tightly over the back of the head, and inclosed in a bag of network, or in a black or blue handkerchief. Many of the girls, although jet black, possess features of classic beauty, but the rough life they lead causes them to fade early ; yet their brilliant eyes and white teeth always give a pleasing expression to their goodnatured faces. When the English first occupied Aden, the dress of the Somali females usually consisted of goat skins tied over the left shoulder and hanging loosely in front ; but they soon became ashamed of this primitive costume, and their dress now consists of a white or coloured cotton cloth bound round the waist, with both ends fastened in a knot across the breast. Their ornaments consist of large necklaces called " audulli", composed of glass and coral beads and pieces of amber, with bracelets of the same. The dress of the men is very graceful. It consists of a flowing white robe, exactly resembling the old Roman costume, wrapt loosely round the body, and one end thrown over the left shoulder. Their legs are bare, and on their feet they wear sandals of cow- hide. They are very fond of wearing charms and amulets made of silver or amber, or a small leather bag, containing sentences from the Koran, hung round the neck, or fastened on the right arm. Both sexes pay great attention to their teeth. The tooth-brush, consisting of a fibrous twig of a tree, is in constant use ; and I have never seen any race of people possessing such white, regular, and perfect sets of teeth. They are bigoted Mohammedans, and very strict in the observ- ance of the ceremonies of their religion ; yet, strange to say, they do not seclude their females, and both sexes join together in merry dances and other amusements. In addition to the Moham- medan festivals and fasts, they observe some which have probably an earlier origin than their present faith. The chief of these is the festival of "Dubsheed" or new year's day — literally the Bonfire, — which they celebrate with feasting and dancing round large bonfires. They are passionately fond of singing, dancing, and mirth in every form. They attach great importance to the rite of circumcision, which they consider the most important ob- servance of their religion ; it is usually performed between the ages of four and eight years. A very singular custom prevails amongst the Somali, which I have never heard of as existing amongst any other race. " Hac C. P. Rigby — Origin of the Somali Race. 93 in gente ad castitatem servandam hujusmodi mos est. Puellarura vulvas filo ex corio confecto constringunt ; has, cum connubiale jugum ferre poterunt, magno cum apparatu solvunt." The Somali are a pastoral race, but also carry on a considerable trade. Large caravans from the interior of their country visit the great annual fair at Berbera, bringing for sale coffee, ivory, gum-arabic, myrrh, frankincense, ostrich feathers, ghee, etc. Since the occupation of Aden by the British, the Somali have continued to visit it, and furnish the chief supply of sheep, glue, etc. On the east coast they carry on a considerable trade from the ports of Brava, Merka, and Magadesho. The frankincense country is inhabited by the Magarthein tribe of Somalis. It is situated in the range of limestone mountains, which extends for about one hundred and fifty miles from Cape Guardafui to Bunder Cassim. Along this coast are many towns and villages inhabited by the people of this powerful tribe. Many Banians from Kutch, and Arabs, reside here, and carry on a considerable trade in gums, hides, etc. The frankincense tree grows upon the limestone rock ; the gum is collected by making a deep incision into the stem. The Somali have a tradition that their ancestors emigrated from the Arabian province of Hadramaut to Med, on the African coast ; from which place their descendants gradually spread over the country they now occupy, having driven out the original Galla inhabitants. They ascribe the origin of the present tribes to three persons, named Isacc, Tir, and Tarood. Isacc they consider to be the progenitor of the three principal tribes — the Habr gir Hajis, Habr Awul, and Habr tul Jaitah. According to this tradition, Tarood was originally from Africa ; and they consider that the tribes descended from him are of Negro origin. These are the Majertein, Wur Sungulli, Dhol Bahanta, and Wbgadin. The Somali tribes differ much in feature and general appear- ance, some being much lighter in colour than others; but all speak the same language, and differ but slightly in manners and customs. Each tribe is quite independent, and is governed by its own sultan or girad, whose authority is little more than nominal. Feuds constantly occur between the various tribes ; and, being a very warlike, independent race, bloody fights often occur. Their arms consist of a light spear about six feet in length, a shield of rhinoceros hide, a long, straight, two-edged dagger, and a bow with arrows poisoned with the juice of a tree called " gergalla". Firearms are scarce, and seldom used by them. In addition to the long heavy spear, they usually carry a short light one for throwing. They generally marry between fifteen and twenty years of age. When a man is desirous of marrying, his parents or friends apply to the relatives of the girl, and, if their consent is obtained, the 94 C. P. RlGBY — Origin of the Somali Race. girl is seldom consulted on the subject. They next arrange the marriage portion which the young man is to pay, and which is generally fixed at fifty sheep, or a few camels or cows, when in their own country. When residing in Arabia, the dowry is from twenty to twenty-five dollars in silver, according to the custom of the Arabs. The girl is not expected to contribute anything. A man can divorce his wife whenever he chooses. Polygamy is common among them, but the women are always treated as equals by the men. When a man dies, his property is divided amongst his children, the daughters receiving only a small portion. The widow either marries one of her former husband's relations, or returns to her own family. When a man dies leaving no children, his widow receives no share of his property, which is divided amongst his nearest male relations, one of whom usually marries the widow. The houses of the Somali are generally built in the usual African fashion, circular, constructed with leaves and reeds covered with skins and mats. These are, however, generally used by the wandering tribes ; when settled in towns, they construct stone houses in the Arab fashion, with flat roofs. The furniture con- sists of a mat couch, a few brass or earthen cooking utensils, large earthen jars for holding milk, a prayer carpet, and a wooden rest for the head when sleeping. The same custom of female circum- cision prevails among the Somali as among the Abyssinians. According to their own tradition, they were converted to the Mohammedan faith by a messenger from Umr, one of the chiefs of the Koreish tribe. Travellers or merchants, when visiting the Somali country, are obliged to engage a person called an " Aban", who becomes re- sponsible for their security during their residence in the country, and also acts as broker, agent, and interpreter. The aban is usually selected from among the elders of one of the principal tribes. He is remunerated by a percentage on all purchases by traders, and presents by travellers. Should any violence or insult be offered to a stranger when under the guardianship of an aban, his tribe is bound to resent it. The Somali language has not the slightest resemblance to either the Arabic, Amharic, Galla, or Sowahili languages. From the intercourse with the Arabs, many Arabic words have been added to it ; but the construction of the language is not influenced by them. The language affords no aid in determining the question as to the probable origin of the Somali race. If they are de- scended from the Abyssinian conquerors of Arabia Felix, we might expect to find some affinity between the Amharic, or Abys- sinian, and the Somali languages. The Somalis themselves have no grammatical rules for the formation of words ; but their language is remarkable for its regular construction, particularly when it is C. P. Rigby — Origin of the Somali Mace. 95 considered that it has no written character. It possesses two genders of nouns ; the plural is regularly formed from the sin- gular. The verb has four tenses, corresponding to the present, past, future, and conditional ; also an imperative and prohibitive form. The verb is always the last word in a sentence. The defi- nite article is expressed by the affixes ka, hi; or ga, gi; da, di; as Agal, a house Agalka, the house Nin, a man Ninki, the man Mindi, a knife Mindida, the knife Diir, cloth Durka, the cloth Animals of different sexes have generally different names ; as Furus, a horse Gehyen, a mare Dibi, a bull Saha, a cow Awur, a male camel Hub, a female camel Wil, a son Ghubr, a daughter The plural is usually formed by the addition of o, go, od, to the singular ; as Bor, a hill Boro, hills Nag, a woman Nago, women Mindi, a kuife Mindigo, knives The numerals are as follows : — 1, Mid or kau 7, Tuddoba 2, Liibab. 8, Sided 3, Sadab. 9, Suggal 4, Afarr 10, Tobun 5, Sbun 11, Kaubi ya tobun 6, Liyah 12, Lubah ya tobun 100, Bughul The personal pronoun is as follows : — Aneka, / Anaga, we Adeka, thou Idinka, you Husuggu, he Naka, they The salutation on meeting is Ma burre din. The reply, Burre na How do you do? Adeka wa siddi Ans. Quite well, Aneka wa sisun Good night! Nubdee Answer. Wa nubdee Although the country of the Somali is bordered on the south by the Negro or Sowahili races, I have not found a single word which is common to the two languages. If the Somali are descended from the Abyssinian invaders of Arabia Felix, who were driven out by the tribe of Hamyar, assisted by an army sent by Khusru Anushirwan, king of Persia, it is remarkable that they have not preserved any knowledge of a written character. I consider that the Somali are an original unmixed African race.